I ran into one of my favorite people in comics and music, Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance fame, backstage at the Spike TV Scream 2008 Awards. We wandered around a bit, and I was fortunate enough to introduce him to both Frank Miller and Tim Burton (I do love my job). Way was in such a good mood that he gave me the major lowdown on “The Umbrella Academy” ramping up as a film project at Universal. He talked about his hopes to bring in people such as “Children of Men” director Alfonso Cuarón, Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood (“Chicago,” “Sweeney Todd“) and perhaps screenwriter Diablo Cody, who picked up an Academy Award for “Juno.”
GB: So what’s the good word on “The Umbrella Academy”?
Way: “We just had our first meeting at Universal, and it went great. The hardest thing was finding the right building and the right gate. Nah, the meeting was great, really, really great. The book was optioned before [International Comic-Con in] San Diego, and now it’s been green-lighted. Now we’re talking screenwriters and directors, obviously. There’s no director attached yet.”
GB: What can you tell us about the process so far and your priorities?
Way: “They want me to be very involved in it. I’m interested in co-scoring it with somebody too. Something like RJ-D2. Something completely different. Do you know what I mean? I think everything he does has an interesting ’60s vibe. It almost has that dystopian ‘The Prisoner’ feel to it.”
GB: You would almost want a “Harold & Maude” meets “X-Men” sensibility to an “Umbrella” movie, if that doesn’t sound too odd.
Way: “No, basically that’s it. Yeah, ‘Harold & Maude‘ meets the ‘X-Men.’ The soundtrack can’t be a straight score. It has to have some kind of quirk to it. I want to make the music super, super interesting.”
GB: What do you know about the timetable for the film?
Way: “I’ve heard 2010 and 2011. I think 2010 is the big Marvel year, right? So maybe 2011. Not that this is going to be like those movies, really. I said going into the meetings that this film has to be really progressive. It can’t simply be the next opportunity for a video game. In the way that ‘The Dark Knight’ made its own rules, it needs to have its own energy. One of the names I was really interested in as far as screenwriters was Diablo Cody. I think it’s an unexpected choice. Everything about this book has been making the less-obvious choices.”
Way: The one thing I don’t want to have happen is I don’t want it to be ‘Harry Potter.’ And the studio doesn’t want that. The boy in this story is not a boy. He’s 60 years old. He is an assassin. There’s so much about him that is extremely violent. So that’s why I don’t want this to look like ‘Harry Potter.’ It’s not pretty and nice and safe. It has funny moments, but it’s a dark humor. Everything about the movie has to interlock properly. I want the music to be just right. I want Colleen Atwood to do the costumes. She’s never done a super-hero. We actually had a meeting long before the Universal meeting when I first really heard about the possibility of the film. It was one of the first things I did, right away. What will make the project special is the people that work on it.
GB: That makes sense. How does that shape your thought on the best option at director?
Way: I love Alfonso Cuarón. That would be amazing.
GB: What about the obvious choice, Wes Anderson? You’ve told me in the past that he has been a key influence on your sensibility with “The Umbrella Academy.”
Way: “I think that’s too close to home. It’s too much to the source, unfortunately for me. I think he would read it and think, ‘I think I’ve covered this ground already.’ He was such a major influence on ‘The Umbrella Academy.’ I think he would read the book and think it’s like one of his films with super powers. OK, maybe it’s not that bad. But I was inspired not just by his rhythm but by the things that influenced him. Like ‘Harold & Maude.’ But I think it might be too much to the source.”
GB: Michel Gondry seems like a director who would also have an affinity for the quirky and sometimes grotesque universe you’ve explored in “Umbrella.” Did that name come up?
Way: I love everything Gondry is doing. I love that lo-fi element. He could do something amazing with this. I thought ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ was so interesting, the way it was made and the texture of it. I’ve seen every one of his films. I loved ‘Be Kind Rewind.’ There are so many directions we could go in. I’m just excited to be in this process, and I can’t wait to see where it leads.”
Top photo: Gerard Way at the Spike TV Scream 2008 Awards. Credit: Dan Steinberg / Associated Press
Lower photo: Gerard Way performing at the 2007 MTV Europe Music Awards. Credit: Getty Images.
All ‘Umbrella Academy” art by Gabriel Bá and courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.